Catching up after a long week of carbs and exhaustion

Spending my Saturday catching up on Padres games and making a flaccid effort to clean my home office.

We flew to California a week ago today; we returned home early Thursday morning. I ate half the breakfast burrito my sister insisted on bringing to me less than 24 hours before, then dragged myself to bed to sleep off some grief, anxiety, and the pain of long hours crammed in a winged sardine can with a thick piece of cloth over half your face.

***

Catching up on whatever news I can stomach (which, these days, isn’t much). The news item that was the biggest gut punch for me: the latest round of buyouts at the Tribune – the first under Alden Capital ownership.

There’s so many familiar names among these buyouts, I’m starting to realize that pretty soon, only a tiny handful of people I worked with nearly 20 years ago will be gone.

Among them: three columnists for whom I built websites when I landed at chicagotribune.com in the late 1990s, including Eric Zorn – who was especially kind and patient with me and will forever be in my mind the tallest, most interactive columnist ever.

Godspeed to the folks who are leaving. And God help the people who are left.

***

I still have a lot to process from the past week. Today I spent a great morning over breakfast doing a bit of processing with one of my dearest friends. Not sure how much processing I’ll do in this space, though. My greatest anxieties stemming from the week will likely remain analog and offline. I have enough to write about online.

***

The airline we flew provides free entertainment to distract us from the cramped seats, the aforementioned long hours in a winged sardine can, and the discomfort of lugging all of your possessions in a carry-on to avoid the $30-per-bag fee for checked-in luggage.

I took home two obsessions, thanks to this free entertainment: David Byrne’s “American Utopia” concert film (directed by Spike Lee) and the Apple TV+ sitcom “Ted Lasso.”

Somehow, “American Utopia” made me feel okay about growing old, even though the “Stop Making Sense” movie provided the soundtrack of my college years more than 30 years ago, and this latest concert film reminded me of that. Byrne has aged, like we all have, but that hasn’t kept him from making joyful, energetic, and insightful art. I watched “American Utopia” on the way to California and during my return home, and it buoyed my spirits when I needed it the most.

The flight only offered the first two episodes of “Ted Lasso,” and when I got home, I went ahead and subscribed to Apple TV+ so I could binge watch the final eight episodes. It didn’t take long. (I only binge watch archived baseball games on MLB.tv, so this was a first for me.) Much has been said about the power of niceness that the show depicts, and that’s part of what I adore about this show. But the titular character demonstrates more than that; there is a resilience and stubborness in Ted Lasso’s optimism, even in the midst of his own sadness and anxiety over his failling marriage. Some critics say, well, this is fiction and not real – but why must so many shows be hard and cynical? We get enough of that in real life.

I don’t watch much TV or many movies; the critically acclaimed stuff strikes me as cynical or overwrought or trying too hard to be woke or meaningful, and I’ve had my fill of that. (Much of what passes for news or punditry also feels overly earnest or a vehicle for cynicism, and I prefer to consume such content in small doses.) I’m just hoping “Ted Lasso” doesn’t take a dark turn in its second season, which starts next month.

***

I ate my weight in carbs while we were gone. I didn’t eat as much rice as I might have six months ago, but I thought nothing of all the tortilla-based and bready, sugary stuff that made its way into my grazing. I think I ended up maybe more than 100 grams over my 100-gram carb limit at one point. But I still logged everything.

Not alarmed. I decided weeks ago that I would go easy on myself this past week. I fully expect some weight gain when I weigh myself Monday. In the meantime, I’m back on the wagon and watching my carbs again. Onward.

Pressing into grief at the ballpark

One of the first things my sister told me Tuesday after she broke the news of our mom’s passing: Go ahead and go to your ballgame on Thursday. It wasn’t exactly what I was thinking about at the time.

But she reiterated the point during another phone call that night. “Daddy would want you to go,” she said. “Mams would want you to go.” Even my boss – who signed off on my day off for the game weeks ago – said the next morning, unprompted, I needed to go.

Finally, one of my wisest friends wrote me in an email this morning: “Don’t be shy about enjoying life (like ice cream and baseball) as you also press into waves of grief.”

So, we’re in Milwaukee today to watch my Padres. Mom wasn’t much of a baseball fan, but I’m still thinking of her anyway.

An obituary for Mom

Mercedes Vinluan Garcia died peacefully Tuesday afternoon in Bonita, California, slightly more than three months after celebrating her 90th birthday. Her oldest daughter and youngest sister were at her bedside.

It is awkward and deeply frustrating to have to grieve from afar. It is even more awkward to grieve when, in many respects, we lost our mother years ago. She was diagnosed with dementia around the time Frannie was born, so my daughter never knew her grandmother at her liveliest, most lucid self. But Mom’s illness never got in the way of her fierce devotion and love for all of us, and she delighted in her only grandchild – especially given that we named her after the husband she lost nearly 30 years ago.

It doesn’t help that COVID-19 concerns will likely limit arrangements to grieve together in California, even as many pandemic restrictions are being eased. It may be weeks before my sister and brother and I can lay her to rest.

I don’t really have it in me to weave the kind of lengthy, heartfelt tribute my mother deserves, so I won’t even try right now. The memories – her sardonic, surprisingly goofy sense of humor; her generosity of spirit; her almost comical worry about the tiniest things that might befall us – will arise here and there and at the weirdest times, as grief does. Just know that our hearts are broken, and we will miss her deeply.

We are gathered here today to get through this thing called life

Prince died 5 years ago today. Doesn’t feel like that long ago.

That morning, I was listening to WXRT on the way to the office. By the time I got there, Lin Brehmer — the morning deejay at the time who, with his colleague Terri Hemmert, is a national treasure — was waxing poetic about Prince’s passing. The somber tone was broken with the riff of a church organ.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life

Electric word life
It means forever and that’s a mighty long time
But I’m here to tell you
There’s something else
The after world

The opening lines of “Let’s Go Crazy” left me weeping in a Naperville parking lot. I turned up my stereo as loud as it would go.

So when you call up that shrink in Beverly Hills
You know the one, Dr. Everything’ll Be Alright
Instead of asking him how much of your time is left
Ask him how much of your mind, baby

‘Cause in this life
Things are much harder than in the after world
In this life
You’re on your own

And if the elevator tries to bring you down
Go crazy, punch a higher floor

Five years later, Prince’s hometown is dealing with more gut punches beyond the loss of a favorite son. The world has been torn apart and spliced together in the past 5 years, and it’s changed a lot, it seems. Or maybe it hasn’t, and we’re just seeing the world for what it is a lot more clearly – and maybe that’s an even worse thing.

I’m in my mid-50s, when I thought I’d be done being disillusioned. Maybe it’s good that I let hope spring eternal about a lot of stuff, like human nature and – especially – faith. But how many times can that hope crash and burn in my eyes until I’m done with such things?

We’re all excited
But we don’t know why
Maybe it’s ‘cause
We’re all gonna die

And when we do (When we do)
What’s it all for (What’s it all for)
You better live now
Before the grim reaper come knocking on your door

Maybe it’s not terribly orthodox theology, but I don’t care. It’s become theology I can live with right now. I hope Prince and I will share an afterlife where I can thank him for that.

Sunday worship in the time of pandemic

Not that it’s anybody’s business but God’s, but it dawned on me that one could ask: Why do you opt to view Mass from home on Sundays rather than attend in person, but you’re okay with going into restaurants, a Pilates studio, and even a museum occasionally?

I’ve thought about this a lot. And I don’t emerge from this guilt-free. I get that it is incongruous to be unwilling to go to church yet be willing to go out to these other relatively less important places. The possibility of infection is only a small part of why we remain home Sunday mornings.

The truth is, if it was just me, I’d likely be more inclined to go to Mass. (I haven’t received the Eucharist since my November retreat. And it kills me to think about it.) But I have to consider my daughter, who is preparing for confirmation and reception of Communion in the Roman Catholic Church.

My Episcopal and Anglican friends, having been part of F’s First Communion celebration at our former Episcopal parish a couple of years ago, would be horrified and indignant that our Roman parish’s pastor decided F would have to wait and prepare another 2 years to begin receiving the Eucharist again. But that is what we have agreed to do. F agreed to go through 2 years of CCD – asking to do this first year remotely, rather than in person – rather than try to rush the process by going through, say, a year of RCIA with older people or even periodic meetings with the pastor. Our pastor gave F those options, and she opted for the 2-year deal.

But, my Episcopal and Anglican friends would insist, our former parish was “Catholic,” and the longtime rector there taught that the Episcopal Church is on equal footing with Rome insofar as the sacraments go. This teaching helped me feel better about being at the Episcopal parish, where I was very happy for a number of years, because I knew in my heart of hearts that I was Catholic, and this place – back then, before that rector retired – was in many ways more “Catholic” than a lot of Roman parishes I know. (This was before my husband’s annulment gave me the opportunity to return to Rome, which is a subject for a future post.)

Despite that rector’s contention, however, and the informal agreement of many Roman Catholic clergy with that idea, this is not what the Church – that is to say, Rome – officially teaches. And we are part of Rome now.

F and I had attended Mass at a couple of different Roman parishes since leaving our old Episcopal parish, and F dutifully would join the Communion line, arms crossed, to receive a blessing. There were several times when eucharistic ministers didn’t know what to do with a tween who wasn’t receiving; confusing scenarios would ensue, and they became increasingly awkward. When the pandemic dispensations came down that allowed us not to worry about our Sunday Mass obligation, I was relieved that F didn’t have to go through such awkwardness for a while.

After churches shut down, I set up our own home liturgy each week, based on the Sunday rubrics – the Sunday readings and many of the Mass prayers, up to the Eucharistic celebration, obviously – and wrapping up with our own intercessions and the prayer of Spiritual Communion, plus the Hail Holy Queen and prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. We continued with this even after we returned to in-person Mass for a bit.

When we started going back to Mass after churches reopened, things became even more awkward; the kabuki-like processes involving hand sanitizer and masks complicated things, and both priests and eucharistic ministers became even more befuddled by a non-receiving kid. After several Sundays of this, I finally decided we would remain at home on Sundays. F seemed relieved.

Nowadays, we pray through our home liturgy together before CCD; after CCD, we usually view the Sunday Mass from Holy Name Cathedral. At the very least, this gets F acclimated to the words and routine of the Sunday liturgy without either the distractions that come with in-person worship or the anxiety that comes with awkward Communion line situations.

It can be laborious sometimes, putting together the home liturgy, but reading and praying through the process has been an enlightening and fruitful experience for me. I’m grateful for it, and F seems to appreciate the intimacy of praying through it together as well.

So, no, we’re not attending Sunday Mass these days. The pandemic dispensations remain, so we are okay as far as the Church is concerned. And until the dispensations are lifted, I’m going to forge ahead this way with my daughter.

Aging ungracefully

I don’t think I’ve always hated birthdays. In retrospect, though, I can think of only a small handful of birthdays (that I can remember) that I actually enjoyed.

(I distinctly recall two I liked: a 21st birthday surprise party in college, and – oddly enough – eight years ago, when I ended up having emergency gallbladder surgery.)

Otherwise, birthdays have become increasingly depressing for me. I’m not even taking the day off from work for the big day. I figured that if I was off work, I’d just spend the day brooding. And no matter what, much self-pity and irritation with my immediate loved ones is likely to be had by all.

No matter how I choose to spend my day (and, more and more, the day[s] before and after), I end up sitting around craving people’s attention and loud, enthused good wishes – and, when I don’t get it, wanting to go away and be left alone so I don’t think about being forgotten. It blows over after a day or two, but it’s not fun when you experience it.

When you stop and think about it – and part of my problem is that I’m stopping and thinking too much – humans just want to be remembered and have their existence recognized. That’s all anybody wants.

(And ironically, or perhaps not, I’m increasingly thoughtless and terrible about remembering and acknowledging others. And appreciating them. I used to be really good at it and made an effort to remember birthdays and such, but then the favor was rarely returned, so I stopped. But that’s a topic for another post.)

Two days before the big day, I’ll be heading out, running errands, and figuring out what to do with myself as I turn a whopping 55 years old. Happy birthday to me.

Stripping away the anger and frills for a basic -- but late -- Lenten start

It’s taken a while, but I think I’m finally on the Lenten train.

The divisive, angry wing of the Church – the one that increasingly condemns Pope Francis, holds up the Latin Mass over even reverent vernacular Mass as the optimal (if not the only true) liturgy, considers abortion the only pro-life issue that matters, and traffics in conspiracy theories and far right politics – has left me thoroughly disgusted. Unfortunately, that wing has touched “mainstream” Catholic sources, including some I had followed semiregularly (like EWTN, Relevant Radio, and Bishop Barron’s Word on Fire operation); even the Catholic bookstore that has been a mainstay for me has fallen to it. So, I’ve had to cull the spiritual supports in my social media and reading to ease the rage that has blinded me for weeks.

I don’t agree with everything that lives at the center-left end of the Catholic spectrum, especially some of the more New Agey spots (cough – Richard Rohr – cough) where it veers from orthodox theology. But the vindictive, holier-than-thou far right spirit that has clouded my vision lately is notably absent, and I feel like I can see God again.

Anyway, so much has clouded my spiritual vision that Fr. Daniel Horan’s suggestion to “go back to basics” for Lent really spoke to me. I’ve gone with one of Fr. Horan’s ideas for the season:

Why not set aside some time each day during Lent to read a portion of the Bible, perhaps start with one of the Gospels and read, reflect and pray with the passage? If we allow ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s inspiration, sayings and narratives we thought we understood could inform or challenge us in new and timely ways.

So, I’ve been spending some quality time with the Gospel of Mark, using The Message paraphrase of the Bible. It’s been deeply absorbing and eye-opening, more than I expected. It is awfully refreshing to strip away all the ritual, relatively peripheral devotions, church politics, culture wars, and theological preening, and get to the basis of Christianity: Jesus himself.

From there, I’ve only taken up a few other things for Lent:

  • Read and reflect on two other books this season: “Learning to Pray” by Fr. James Martin and “The Hidden Power of Kindness” by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik.
  • Give up YouTube binging on mindless, time-wasting entertainments like “Big Bang Theory” clips.
  • Avoid constant indulgence in news – stop constantly checking the Washington Post, The New York Times, and other such sites – especially stuff that leads to anger, gossip, and detraction.
  • Avoid gossip and detraction. This goes for work and home conversations about everything and everybody: news figures/celebrities; colleagues; friends, acquaintances, and neighbors; church people; and each other. Change the subject when others try to draw me into such chatter. (I have already failed at this numerous times since Wednesday.)
  • I had a semi-grand idea to forego VitaminWater Zero for the season and set aside my spending on that for alms, but I’ve already failed at that. I’ve given up there and I’m just setting aside alms for the archdiocesan COVID-19 relief effort and our local food bank.

Usually I get ambitious about things like Lent. This year, I’m too tired to be ambitious: tired of religion (but not God), tired of the pandemic, tired of life. If only a few steps – beginning with getting reacquainted with Jesus – can rebuild my spirit even a little, I will be overjoyed.

Silliness and ellipses (possibly first in a series)

In memory of Larry King and his late, lamented weekly newspaper column of random thoughts, boldfaced celebrities, and sometimes ridiculous nonsequiturs, I’m directing my stream of consciousness here and spitting a bunch of ellipses into it. Maybe it’ll be a regular thing, maybe not.

“It Is Well With My Soul” is one of my favorite hymns. I wish Catholic churches worked it into Masses. … The Anglican tradition is so superior to modern Catholic worship practice when it comes to hymnody. … Cardinal Cupich and Bp. Barron had excellent homilies today. … Can the rad-trad crowd please stop picking on Pope Francis?

Took my first Advil (or, in this case, an Advil Dual Action pill with ibuprofen and acetaminophen in it) in almost a week. Trying to avoid taking ibuprofen because I suspect it helps spike my blood pressure. … Trying to think of ways to have an avocado a day. … The keto crowd appears to have all the avocado recipes I could want. But it feels like a cult, and it annoys me. … What’s the Dalai Lama up to these days? … That old Fitbit I dredged up is working, but it doesn’t hold a charge for more than a day. I may need to get a new one.

The Tabernacle Choir has become part of my Sundays. Their weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” program gives me background music and a fine nonsectarian message while I write. … The Temple Square organ concerts are great, too. … I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the Mormons, even though they won’t call themselves “Mormons” anymore. … Gladys Knight, Steve Young, and Ken Jennings are my favorite Mormons. Oh, and that “Napoleon Dynamite” guy.

I’m obsessed with my Vitamin D, potassium, and magnesium levels. I use supplements to help my Vitamin D and magnesium needs, but apparently potassium supplements need to be used with caution. … Since the king of all potassium-rich foods, the banana, is a nonstarter in my new low-carb life, I’m looking at new sources of potassium. Best bets for me: spinach, yogurt, kefir, and avocados. … I kind of miss Herb Caen.

Speaking of San Francisco, I disagree with Kamala Harris on a bunch of things, but I truly like her. … Deleted my fourth “Doomscrolling” list from Twitter this weekend. … Wonder how long the PTSD will last after 4 years of the last administration. … It’s nice to have a regular churchgoer in the White House again. … Fran Lebowitz is my spirit animal.

I suppose I should be watching the NFC and AFC championship games. I’m not. … Not as much of a Blackhawks fan since they fired Joel Quenneville. … Last I checked, no one had nailed down a date when White Sox pitchers and catchers report. Anybody know? … Good lord, the keto cult annoys me. … I need to send Philip Rivers a thank-you note now that he’s retired.

Sadly, There’s no archive of King’s old “King’s Things” column. Jim Caple at ESPN created a long-ago tribute to it that refreshed my memories of those bizarre clusters of brain nuggets.

The losing battle is under way

It’s been a week since my first visit with the bariatric doctor: a week of carb limits, new meds, and scrambling to find bread and cracker recipes that won’t kill me.

I’ve lost 6 pounds. At least 74 more to go.

So, here’s the gist of my doctor’s weight loss prescription:

  • 100 grams of carbs per day
  • 15 to 30 minutes of activity a day (on top of ultimately 10,000 steps daily)
  • low doses of phentermine (appetite suppressant) and hydrochlorothiazide (diuretic)
  • 3 to 4 cups of fruits/vegetables daily
  • 64 ounces of water daily
  • Don’t drink your fruits” (or, presumably, vegetables)
  • MyFitnessPal to log food intake

I’m failing miserably at the activity part. I did discover chair workouts to do during work breaks late last week; the one I actually pulled off – a whopping 10-minute session – left me achy and winded the next couple of days. But I intend to keep trying.

Although I’m barely meeting the water and fruits/vegetables goals, I’m doing okay with the carbs thing. Limiting my carbs is more of an issue with Chris’ dinner planning than anything else, especially on my meatless Fridays. (He generally dislikes fish, except for sushi and some salmon.)

The doctor said it’s not the quantity of food I’ve been consuming that’s the main problem; it’s what I’ve been eating that’s the problem. I’ve been carb-heavy – lots of breads, chips, and sweets – and drinking juices rather than the healthier approach of eating fruits and vegetables. I confess I didn’t grasp a lot of what he said, but he talked a lot about blood sugar spiking and insulin and fast carbs. And he got into sleep quality and how my suspected apnea issues may be complicating my weight issues and ultimately my overall health.

It’s only been a week, and the road ahead remains overwhelming. I have an awful lot to learn about how all of this works. But I still think this is the right way to deal with what has been a lifelong weight problem that I can’t afford to continue.

Next health stop: bariatric medicine

I am morbidly obese. And on Monday, I have my first appointment with a bariatric doctor.

This is a long time coming. Too long. And I don’t even care that much anymore about the appearance and clothes-fitting parts of this. Between being particularly susceptible to COVID-19 illness and generally being more conscious with age of my mortality, it was time to take a step beyond half-assed commitments to everything from Weight Watchers to intermittent fasting.

I’m not looking into weight-management surgery; I want to explore nonsurgical options. I found that despite the horror show of colonoscopy prep last summer, the clear-liquid diet actually provided some gut relief and left me feeling physically better. Not sure whether a liquid diet is an option with the clinic I’m visiting, though.

Lately, I’ve been drinking a green tea kefir smoothie in the mornings, shaken in a Blender Bottle, that keeps me going until the early afternoon:

  • 1 cup plain lowfat kefir
  • ½ tsp matcha green tea
  • ½ to 1 cup Naked juice smoothie (any flavor; I like Mango Madness or Berry Blast)
  • 2 tsp Benefiber (per my urogynecologist)
  • Optional: 1 packet stevia

That and water (or VitaminWater Zero) keep me sated and energized till I find myself craving something like chips or cookies or whatever after my 2 p.m. meeting. Trying to be better with healthier options.

It probably doesn’t help that we eat dinner pretty late. Granted, I don’t eat nearly as much at the dinner table as I used to (rarely seconds, and I’m more adamant about a simple salad at the outset), but I have slightly more of a sweet tooth afterward. And eating only 2 to 3 hours before bedtime probably isn’t a good idea.

My pelvic floor dysfunction diagnosis last summer, and subsequent physical therapy in the fall, got me much more conscious about my food intake and overall health. I’m much more aware of links between my abdominal pain and my bowel and bladder activity, as well as the importance of gut health. I feel like I’m on the verge of something.

I’m not completely free of my abdominal pain, but I know what causes it, and how to relieve it through mild exercise. Now if I can only be free of my chronic lower back pain.

I look forward to talking with the doctor about all this Monday.

Right-wing extremists destroy the Church

So, I ended up on some right-wing Catholic organization’s mailing list and got a magazine in my mailbox today. Between the articles and the accompanying letter listing in detail the way the current pope is destroying the Church (not to mention the world), I was done with this mailing in all of 2 minutes.

I took the letter (addressed to “Mr. Joyce Garcia”) and promptly scribbled, “PLEASE REMOVE ME FROM YOUR MAILING LIST” across the top, added the postscript “God bless Pope Francis,” signed it MS. Joyce Garcia, and put it in the included envelope — with my own stamps so I pay for my own enraged reaction — for mailing tomorrow.

(I think I also tucked into the envelope the little form they included to accommodate banking information to allow them to siphon donations from a bank account.)

Look, I may have my differences with the present pope (as I have with every pope of the past several decades), but the level of vitriol and calumny leveled against him is out of control. And calumny and its sister sin, detraction, are cut from the same cloth of evil. Both are sins when directed against anybody, but especially against the Holy Father.

The Church has enough problems without having to deal with divisive conspiracy theorists among its members spewing rage and hate.

This just in: I've found a good use for Facebook

I hate Facebook with every fiber of my being.

But I also hate the Bears, ice storms, and coronavirus. I’m stuck with their existence and have to come to terms with them, too.

I have thought numerous times about pulling the plug and deleting my Facebook account. The anti-Facebook crowd that drives this blogging platform I use would say it’s the only way to go. But there are people who are dear to me on Facebook (and its sister platform, Instagram), and I don’t see them removing themselves anytime soon.

Over the past couple of years, I have distanced myself from Facebook, posting sporadically at best and lurking occasionally. It did me a lot of good to break my addiction to the site; it fed a compulsion to compare my paltry lives to that of others, reminded me that there’s too many stupid people out there, stoked my desire for the attention of “likes,” and stole too much precious time.

In recent months, I’ve tiptoed back into the fray, only posting maybe once or twice a week, if that. When I feel myself growing anxious about something I posted (i.e., being bothered by no “likes” or being annoyed by an obnoxious comment), either I delete whatever comment annoyed me or delete the post entirely.

These days, I’ve found an excellent reason to use Facebook. There are numerous groups devoted to rallying snail mail enthusiasts to send cards and notes to people who need good cheer: sick kids, anxious or otherwise troubled kids, lonely or ill seniors, others who could use a kind or encouraging word. As I’ve been charging into a snail mail habit that I hope to develop throughout the year, this is a perfect use of an otherwise insidious social media platform.

The only pitfall here, besides the fact that I’m pulled back into the Zuckerberg vortex of online traffic, is that I’m now buying greeting cards and postcards in bulk. But it’s worth it if it means sending a stranger a little bit of kindness. And I’m enjoying it.

Even Facebook can be redeemed. Somewhat.

Taking another stab at a faith community online

Created a new faith-based Twitter list of only nuns, consecrated virgins, a handful of priests and bishops, and maybe a layperson or two. This is in an effort to build an online Catholic community of prayer I can tap that isn’t cliquish or politically charged. Most online priests are awfully mansplainy, overly opinionated, and far more full of themselves than the nuns, I’ve noticed. Too many priests and bishops on social media leave me disheartened and deeply annoyed.

I’m still craving a sense of religious community that I left when I returned to Rome. Diocesan Catholic culture is bereft of coffee hours and bonding among parishioners, especially in this time of pandemic. It’s clear that individual Catholics have to build that sense of community themselves, which explains in part why I see a lot of effort to bond among folks in the world of #CatholicTwitter.

That effort, for me, is undermined these days by the QAnon Catholic conspiracy theorists who are dividing the American Church. I destroyed a previous faith-based Twitter list because too much political and conspiratorial uproar was infiltrating the conversations.

The minute I see any political tweets or supportive retweets from the likes of the Daily Caller, Trump, Catholic extremists like Taylor Marshall or the Church Militant crowd, or any number of right-wing (or far left) sources, I’ll 86 the list member. I’m disheartened enough by the secular political climate; I’m trying desperately to maintain a sense of hope and civility about my Church. And so far, I’m not doing very well.

Trading one set of anxieties for another

Been disinclined to blog much lately. I post sporadically on Twitter and, to a lesser degree, on Facebook and Instagram.

In recent weeks, I’ve tended to direct my energy outside work and family to following a Twitter list I created with political feeds. I called it my “Doomscrolling” list. I came to my senses this week and deleted the list, leaving my other Twitter lists focusing on faith, sports, and video gaming.

This is the third Doomscrolling list I’ve deleted on my Twitter account. I created this last one as the last weeks of the presidential campaign heated up. I even clung to it during my private retreat a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the election.

I’ve been steeped in anxiety and anger for months now, alternating my attention between the pandemic and politics; sometimes the two areas would overlap. Sometimes my thoughts about faith would in turn overlap with these other areas. But more often than not, the pandemic and politics would suffocate my attention to faith.

I’m long past the point where I’ve burned out on politics. (At this point, I pray to be secure enough in the knowledge that God has got this, and that the transition crisis will be resolved.) But I remain anxious – and am perhaps more so than ever – about the spread of the coronavirus. This, too, needs to be entrusted to God, but not without action on our parts: We will certainly continue to be masked and sanitized and close to home as much as possible. That said, it’s easier to weave faith into our pandemic life; I find myself praying a lot for people, particularly those who have lost loved ones to the virus or are otherwise in the thick of this latest wave of infections. Even on Twitter, I pray along a lot more as I come across requests for prayer and other needs.

But I have a long way to go in keeping my anxieties in check, persisting in prayer, and trusting in God.

The home office goes full-time

My company decided not to renew its lease on the suburban site where I’ve worked for the past 5 years. So, I am officially now working from home full-time.

The decision not to renew the least didn’t surprise any of us; more people based at that office had been working from home, anyway, and our footprint there had been shrinking. Those of us who remained had assumed we’d just be relocated to a smaller space.

One or two folks are requesting to be relocated to the Chicago office, but that office was largely full before the pandemic. But we’re told that space might open up should many workers based there decide to keep working from home. (The company shut down all its offices in mid-March and is now saying offices won’t reopen till early next year.)

Frankly, I’m fine with this. I miss the camaraderie of the office, and I miss my colleagues, though we connect daily via phone, email, and regular GoToMeeting gatherings. But with the COVID-19 situation, I’d rather hunker down. And I’m enjoying reworking my home office now that this is going to be my full-time workspace. I’m moving my crafting and stationery supplies (including my typewriter) up to the bedroom desk area, which I need to clear out. There’s lots of boxes of stuff there that need to go to Goodwill. And I don’t craft much these days, so a lot of those supplies may go, too.

Anyway, C said I need to think about ways to upgrade the home office. Moving out the craft/stationery stuff to the bedroom desk area will help make room for another bookcase, and I need another bulletin board. I’m keeping all my Catholic books in the home office, as I still spend a lot of time there to read, pray, and use my personal laptop for streaming video (religious and otherwise) and writing.

So, the home office is becoming much more of an office. But it will likely remain my favorite room in the house.

Weekend routine (mid-pandemic edition)

My weekends have fallen into a routine that is neither perfect nor exciting, but it’s comfortable. Much of my off time ends up in the home office, where my personal laptop actually fits into the same dock I use for the work laptop.

It’s probably not a great idea to spend my relaxation time in the same place where I slog through work. But the home office is still my personal space, with a futon sofa and most of my books and arts/crafts materials stashed there. The dogs love the space. Frannie comes in with her gaming and talks Animal Crossing and Pokemon strategy. And I can stream Korean baseball and other video on the big screens. It’s become my happy place, and it helps make work tolerable on rough weekdays.

A typical weekend goes something like this.

Saturday morning: Having biscuits and other breakfast food that C brings home from Chick-fil-A. Then listening multiple times to “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!” and maybe other NPR programs either on terrestrial radio or, more likely, the TuneIn Radio app.

Saturday afternoon

** Catching up on Korean baseball, usually with Jason Benetti doing play-by-play, off the ESPN site. I don’t really keep up with the KBO at a detailed level, but I like how the games and the baseball chatter keep me pleasant company while I read or write. Like right now, as I write this. Even when MLB starts up again, I like the idea of having these games on whenever I like.
** Surrounding myself with books, which I may or may not read at length.
** Streaming other video. Sometimes Twitch feeds of Anthony Bourdain shows, Animal Crossing play, or even Bob Ross programs. Other times, YouTube with Catholic videos, Stephen Colbert reruns, or Animal Planet shows; I’ve become fond of “The Vet Life” lately.
** Writing email, snail mail, and/or blog posts. Maybe posting to Facebook (which I’ve done more – weekends only – than I have in a long time, which still isn’t a whole lot).
** Lying down to relax the chronic pain in my lower back (and shoulders and neck).
** Sifting through the piles of printouts and books in the office and bedroom, and filling up the recycling bin.
** Sometimes heading to our parish for confession and 5 p.m. vigil Mass.

Saturday evenings: Dinner, maybe a round of Cards Against Humanity (Family Edition), or maybe a fire with s’mores in the backyard.

Sunday morning: Attending early Mass (if I haven’t gone to the Saturday vigil Mass), then reading/praying through the “Celebration of the Word” liturgy with F when I get home. (F eventually will accompany me to Mass, but not right now.) After that, breakfast – either pancakes at home or hitting a local diner, with the Sunday papers in tow.

Sunday afternoon: Either a Sunday drive for all of us, or a jaunt through a forest preserve for F and C and the big dog while I stay home to relax my back. (See Saturday afternoon activities.)

Sunday evenings: Same as Saturday evenings, plus possibly some catching up with editing work after everyone else goes to bed.

It’s not thrilling or exotic, to be sure, but it works for me. And it’s not like we’re going anywhere this summer, so this is probably my weekend blueprint for a while.

A hazy day of recovery

I can cross “Have a colonoscopy” off my bucket list now.

Good news: My innards are fine. Even got a bonus stomach scan upon the doctor’s recommendation (after he called to make sure my health insurer would cover it). Except for a tiny stomach polyp that he sent out for an evaluation – he said it’s unlikely to be much of anything – that scan largely turned out okay.

The not-so-good news: I’m not at 100 percent today. Still feeling the after-effects of the sedation. The nurses repeatedly told me, “You’re going to have the greatest nap of your life,” and they were right. I tried to forget the fact that they used Propofol, the stuff that killed Michael Jackson.

Chris said I slept pretty much through the night, which isn’t often the case. But I still woke up groggy, and sitting up made me woozier.

The doctor and nurses also warned me I might have a sore throat from the stomach scan that went down my throat, and soreness arose last night and continues to linger.

On top of that, the abdominal cramping is back, albeit in a mild way. Funny thing is, I experienced no such pain during the past day and a half of a clear liquid diet and intestinal purging. The cramping returned after I started eating again. Starting to think it’s time to go back to the kind of low-fat diet I tried immediately after my gallbladder was removed. And maybe start curbing my dairy intake.

So, as I said, I’m not at 100 percent. I was hoping to log back into work by noon, but I went ahead and called in sick for the whole day. Glad I did. The post-sedation haze I expected has lasted well into the afternoon.

A good time for comebacks

It somehow seemed appropriate to return to Mass on the feast of Corpus Christi (or the eve of Corpus Christi, as I attended the Saturday vigil Mass). Our parish, under guidance from the archdiocese, began offering Sunday Mass last weekend, but I didn’t feel ready to return then. But it was time this weekend.

Started out my Saturday afternoon at church in a makeshift confessional, set up in the parish cry room, I guess to allow for easier disinfecting after each confession. After four months in an inert spiritual state, it felt good to “get back on the wagon,” as the priest put it, and start fresh with God’s grace.

I was allowed to stay for the 5 p.m. Mass, and that gave me a half-hour to sit and realize how much I missed being in church. I also realized how much I need a more breathable mask.

The experience wasn’t ideal in a few respects: I couldn’t really hear the priest well, I forgot to wear the beret headcovering I use in church, I forgot to bow before receiving, and I received in the hand (like the archdiocesan rules said I had to) when it turned out that plenty of people were able to receive at the communion rail on the tongue, as I prefer. I felt out of practice. But I was still glad to be back.

The Sunday obligation remains suspended in our archdiocese, but I’m going to try to keep going – and I might even try to hit a weekday Mass here and there. In the meantime, I’m not going to take F with me until the obligation is in place again and the pandemic rules are relaxed a bit. And then I have to set up time with the pastor to see when she can begin receiving the Eucharist.

F and I have been using “Celebration of the Word” handouts and her new subscription of Magnifikids! from Magnificat magazine each Sunday morning to read through the Liturgy of the Word, pray, and learn a bit about feasts and other things that I thought she learned in her Episcopal Catechesis of the Good Shepherd lessons (but didn’t!). She seems to be connecting with this Sunday time more than she tended to at services in our old Episcopal parish, so I’m in no hurry to stop it.

It’s been a good weekend to contemplate God and start over with Him. Deeply grateful.

A tiny woke spot in suburbia

There’s an anti-racism and anti-police protest in my leafy, suburban, and largely white town. The husband biked over there after finding out the city asked businesses to close and board up around 3 p.m.

He saw maybe a couple of hundred people. I asked if he spotted any actual people of color, and perhaps firearms. Yes to people of color, no to firearms. There was one white kid who tried to stir things up with cops, yelling “Fuck the police!” or whatever, but Chris says he was mocked.

I appreciate those who sincerely mean well in speaking up. But I’m having a hard time not being cynical. I read the law-and-order posts from the residents who ask why the cops and National Guard can’t show up and shoot looters on site. I see the occasional quizzical look at me at school functions. It’s hard not to be jaded, even with video that Chris texts me of people honking in support of this quaint crowd of people lining a main artery of our town.

That said, most of the protesters appear to be kids of different colors, probably from the local high school and/or liberal arts college. Some of them probably have parents who whine about law and order on Facebook; doesn’t have to mean they do. Nobody appears to have guns, nobody’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They hold signs that say “Justice 4 George” and “White people, do something.”

I don’t know. Maybe there’s hope. As long as looting, agitating trolls don’t come out after dusk.

Time to "Do Nothing" -- and rise up against the "attention economy"

Reading How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell and enjoying it immensely. (It was one of President Obama’s favorite books of 2019. I miss having a president who reads.)

How to Do Nothing is less a manifesto on laziness and more a call to re-evaluate the cult of productivity and what I would call the tyranny of distraction posed by corporate social media.

The point of doing nothing, as I define it, isn’t to return to work refreshed and ready to be more productive, but rather to question what we currently perceive as productive.

One thing Odell laments is the lack of context provided when people bark opinions and “facts” at one another in a state of constant distraction, not only benefiting corporate social media, but feeding the cult of “personal branding.”

… the villain here is not necessarily the Internet, or even the idea of social media; it is the invasive logic of commercial social media and its financial incentive to keep us in a profitable state of anxiety, envy, and distraction. It is furthermore the cult of individuality and personal branding that grow out of such platforms and affect the way we think about our offline selves and the places where we actually live. …

I see people caught up not just in notifications but in a mythology of productivity and progress, unable not only to rest but simply to see where they are. And during the summer that I wrote this, I saw a catastrophic wildfire without end. This place, just as much as the place where you are now, is calling out to be heard. I think we should listen. …

To resist in place is to make oneself into a shape that cannot so easily be appropriated by a capitalist value system. To do this means refusing the frame of reference: in this case, a frame of reference in which value is determined by productivity, the strength of one’s career, and individual entrepreneurship. It means embracing and trying to inhabit somewhat fuzzier or blobbier ideas: of maintenance as productivity, of the importance of nonverbal communication, and of the mere experience of life as the highest goal. It means recognizing and celebrating a form of the self that changes over time, exceeds algorithmic description, and whose identity doesn’t always stop at the boundary of the individual. …

The first half of “doing nothing” is about disengaging from the attention economy; the other half is about reengaging with something else. That “something else” is nothing less than time and space, a possibility only once we meet each other there on the level of attention. …

Ultimately, I argue for a view of the self and of identity that is the opposite of the personal brand: an unstable, shapeshifting thing determined by interactions with others and with different kinds of places.

Odell issues a lovely call for nuance, context, and attention away from the “attention economy” that encourages the toxic back-and-forth on Facebook and Twitter, which these companies regard as merely a “bounteous uptick in engagement.”

Just as a series of rooms are dissolved into one big “situation,” instantaneity flattens past, present, and future into a constant, amnesiac present. The order of events, so important for understanding anything, gets drowned out by a constant alarm bell. …

As the attention economy profits from keeping us trapped in a fearful present, we risk blindness to historical context at the same time that our attention is ripped from the physical reality of our surroundings.

It’s a cruel irony that the platforms on which we encounter and speak about these issues are simultaneously profiting from a collapse of context that keeps us from being able to think straight. This is where I think the idea of “doing nothing” can be of the most help. For me, doing nothing means disengaging from one framework (the attention economy) not only to give myself time to think, but to do something else in another framework.

There’s too much great food for thought here, and I’m still reading it. (I recommend you do the same, viewing these snippets in their proper context.) It helps me to jot down notes here (as is the function of a commonplace book, which is part of the point of this site) and think about it all.

My frame of mind, one Wikipedia definition at a time

I started searching for “ambivalence” in Wikipedia (where I found these definitions) and ended up in “asociality.” I imagine that means something.

It's been a weekend

  • ER visit with CT scan and – hooray – new painkillers.
  • Lots of Kindle reading between scans and blood pressure checks and nurse/doctor chats.
  • First decent night’s sleep in weeks thanks to Tramadol.
  • Sunday drive with family along parts of the Fox River.
  • Crazed solo drive to a Jollibee drive-thru that turned out to be closed, followed by a visit to walk-in-only Jollibee with a long line. The bucket of fried chicken with rice, gravy, and peach/mango pies made it worth the lengthy wait, which no doubt aggravated my newly diagnosed sacroiliitis.
  • Long nap on a heating pad with the first of many lidocaine patches on my lower back.
  • Achievement of level 50 in Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, allowing me access to the second floor of the cabin I operate in the game. And yes, I worry about myself.
  • First backyard fire of the year, cut way short by surprising gusts of wind and a “pneumonia front” that ended spectacular weekend weather.

And with all this behind me, I’m taking a sick day to make doctor appointments and get more acquainted with my new friends Tramadol and lidocaine.

Unexpected brush with greatness, c. 1998

A friend on Facebook shared a story where he and a mutual friend of ours ran into Willie Mays at a ballpark. He used the anecdote to solicit stories of “unexpected brushes with greatness.” Here’s what I shared.

I was walking down Michigan Avenue with my sister and a friend visiting from San Diego; I think this was in 1998. My sister nudged me and looked over her shoulder.

“I think that’s Tony Gwynn!” she said. I thought she was nuts, but then I remembered that the Padres were in town. I looked behind us and the first thing I noticed was That Laugh – that unmistakable gurgling laugh of his – and then saw him lingering in front of the Nike store, talking to an older guy that I suspect was the Padres’ hitting coach at the time, Merv Rettenmund.

My sister, her friend, and I kept nudging each other to go talk to him, and I finally caved and ran back. Gwynn sighed and didn’t seem thrilled to be recognized, but I still babbled at him about how I was a big fan, that I grew up in Chula Vista but moved to Chicago a couple of years before – to which he replied, “What the hell did you do that for?”

He agreed to sign a copy of a newspaper I had because I didn’t have anything else for him to sign, and this was well before the days of cellphone cameras. And then he went on his way. It was a fleeting surreal moment to run into a hometown hero well out of context of my actual hometown.

Time to feel things. And get help.

A pandemic has a tendency to get you thinking about the things that are really important. Like human connections, particularly in this lock-down-and-stay-home moment. And my own mental health.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all the friends I’ve ducked or ignored over the past few years. They’ve deserved way better from me, these friends. One of them — someone I finally reconnected with after pestering them with an email, text, and Facebook message — asked me, “Were you just sick of everybody?”

On one level, maybe I was. On another level, maybe I was just sick of me.

Life gets overwhelming. Even when faith keeps me going, I still want to hide from people most of the time. A long, stressful day of dealing with colleagues and internal clients at work — and there are a lot of those kind of days — leaves me spent and really wanting to be left alone. The demands of the most intense relationships (family) and the demands of those obligations that feel less important by comparison (church, the few people left I haven’t yet alienated) take whatever energy is left. And when I’m stretched thin, anxiety kicks in. And I want to hide, even (or especially) from the people I love and who mean the most to me.

Now, I realize I’m fortunate, that calling this a “struggle” (which I generally avoid) may be laughable, given that a lot of people out there have genuine struggles with health, job security (or job loss), and other issues brought about by lockdowns and such. And when I think about that, the thoughts spiral downward even more.

This is a weird variation of the compulsion to compare one’s life to others — one of the worst hazards of social media. My life’s not so bad, right? I’m paralyzed with anxiety and exhaustion and physical pain, yeah. But hey, I still have a job that I can do from home, I have a family that loves me, and I’m otherwise in reasonably good health. And that all means I’ve no right to blow off loyal friends and turn inward, right? (Okay, blowing off loyal friends is wrong.)

There are articles and blog posts that address this sort of thing. Psychology Today, for instance:

You have the right to feel whatever you are feeling, regardless of what others have been through relative to your experience. Feeling your feelings doesn’t make you ungrateful for what you have; it makes you human.

Compounding these feelings is that we have a tendency to compare ourselves to others. This can be reinforced by society: For example, people tell us about someone they feel has exeprienced more suffering than we have. A friend may mean well when they say, “At least you aren’t in ____________’s situation,” but that invalidates your experience. …

You have a right to feel what you feel, regardless of what others say or how you view your challenges in light of others’ suffering. Everyone has challenges; just different ones. Your challenges are a challenge to you, and that makes them valid. Period.

Chad at the No Stigmas blog makes this point: “Nobody gets to decide who deserves who gets help. Nobody gets to decide who might have it worse.” He goes on (as does the Psychology Today article) to urge the reader to find someone to help you: “If the first person you go to doesn’t help, then go to another, and another until somebody helps you. Somebody will help you. They can’t fix you, but they can help you.” (Emphasis mine.)

Tim Challies, a blogger speaking from a faith perspective, speaks to me most clearly on this topic:

Our God is not some distant ruler exercising indifferent authority over the universe but a present helper in our times of trouble — our every time of trouble. He does not demand that we justify our pains before feeling them or rationalize our tears before shedding them. He is “our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). He does not insist our trouble rise to a certain degree or extent before he becomes that refuge and strength. He is at all times and in every situation “the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

In your illness, in your pain, in your suffering, don’t immediately compare yourself to others, and don’t feel the need to justify your sorrow before God. Don’t wallow silently and stoically. Turn first to your Father, cry out to him, and receive his comfort.

(I could dive into the whole Catholic theology of redemptive suffering here, especially as it’s smack in the middle of the Triduum as I write this, but that’s for another time. It’s not that I disagree with the idea of redemptive suffering, and many times I take great comfort in it. But right now, advice to “offer it up” — however well-meaning it is — really doesn’t click with me. It will eventually. It usually does.)

So, yeah, I guess I was sick of everybody. And sick of myself.

Time to stop withdrawing and stop trying to suck it up. Time to reconnect, even if it might be risky or painful. Time to find some help.

Giving up the ghost: Not easy to do

In this time of disconnection from the world, I’ve been taking inventory of my friendships over the years. Conclusion: I am a terrible friend.

Perhaps it’s a matter of having a lot of friends “for a season.” But in looking back, I have been lazy about maintaining ties with those who wanted to remain in touch. I’ve been blessed with friends who are diligent with things like birthday cards, Christmas cards, and email.

At one point or another, once it is clear that the gestures only flow in one direction – mine – the cards and emails stop.

Nowadays, this kind of thing is called “ghosting.” And I’ve been ghosting – that is, cutting off all communication with a friend or significant other and leaving that person wondering why – since before it became a thing.

My disappearance off the radar of others is usually unintentional on my part. I like the concept of snail mail and phone calls, but it’s easier to blog or post on social media before descending into my typical passive, inert state. Blame a critical mass of introversion, low energy, and laziness. My focus on my family probably exacerbates all that, but that critical mass existed long before I sprouted a kid.

On top of that, there’s anxiety. (I’m talking about pre-existing anxiety, not COVID-19 anxiety.) I used to love heading into the city to see friends. But the longer I lived in the suburbs, the less I wanted to travel outside my new comfort zone. Heading solo into the city unnerves me now; urban driving scares me, and then there’s the search for parking and concern about break-ins. Never mind that I lived there for 7 years; then again, in those years, I didn’t have a car, and I didn’t have to worry about parking or anything else related to driving.

So, the more city friends would beckon me repeatedly to see them, the more I felt pressured to do something I didn’t want to do – and when I feel pressured to do something I don’t want to do, I shut down. (This, I realize, is my modus operandi these days.) And then I make like a ghost.

This has happened with at least two or three friends. I’ve tried to make amends with one over the past week, but I’ve heard crickets; I’m not optimistic that I’ll hear back, and I would understand if I never heard from her again. (I’m still working on the others.)

(This behavior, I realize as I write this, probably extends to all the times I’ve traveled to California to see family and avoided telling friends who want to see me.)

The upshot: As a friend, I suck. And I’m sorry to the friends I have hurt by ducking their radar and damaging our friendship.

That said, I don’t apologize for my anxiety. My laziness, yes, but not my anxiety or low energy. It’s just that I could stand to find a better way to handle the latter without hurting those I care about.